Teaching on The Life of Milarepa
Bodhgaya, report by
Jo Gibson, photos taken by
Karma Norbu, Pema Orser Dorje
Gyalwang Karmapa arrived at 9.00am and, after a
mandala offering and the reading of the list of sponsors during the
tea break, His Holiness recommenced his transmission of the Life
of Milarepa at the beginning of Chapter 8, entitled “Retreats”.
Briefly, this chapter provides an overview of
Milarepa’s retreats, practices and those who were influenced by him.
The chapter lists the places where he conducted his retreats. It
praises his great spiritual achievement and the benefit he showered
on all sentient beings through his teachings, and it encourages
people to follow his example.
His disciple, Rechungpa, adds further details
concerning Milarepa’s interactions during those retreats with three
distinct groups of followers: the malevolent non-human beings whom
he conquered, the dedicated disciples whom he guided to liberation,
and the lay followers whom he taught. It describes how and where he
met his spiritual sons, disciples and lay followers. Milarepa had
many disciples, male and female, including Rechung, his biographer,
whom he met for the first time in Gungthang, Gampopa
who became his spiritual successor and one of the main lineage
masters in Milarepa's tradition, and female disciples such as
Rechungma, Paldarbum, Sahle Aui and Tseringma.
Rechung lists Milarepa’s practices during that
time, his communication with dakinis, and his conquering of the
Maras. In summary:
“Innumerable people received teachings, both
known and unknown, during the period in which the Master set
inmotion the Wheel of Law. Guided by the Master, the most highly
developed disciples achieved Enlightenment. The less developed
disciples were brought to a stage of awakening and shown the path
to liberation . The least developed he set on the path to
Bodhichitta. Through a diligent application of the Bodhisattvas’
precepts, they were brought to a firm level of awareness. Even in
the very least developed ones he sowed the seed of virtue and
assured them of attaining the peace of the higher realms in their
With compassion limitless as the sky, the Master
protected innumerable beings from the misery of samsara and of the
lower realms by bringing the light of the Buddha’s teaching.”
(page 152 The Life of Milarepa trans.
Lobsang Lhalungpa, )
Gyalwang Karmapa continued reading into Chapter
9, entitled “Nirvana”. This is the final chapter of the text and
tells the story of the malicious Geshe Tsakpuhwa, a rich and
influential lama, who was envious of Milarepa. His enmity towards
Milarepa grew after Milarepa embarrassed him in front of his
benefactors by refusing to return his prostration. Geshe Tsakpuhwa
retaliated by asking Milarepa to explain a text of Buddhist logic,
knowing full well that Milarepa would not have studied it. However,
Milarepa turned the tables on him. Consequently, Geshe Tsakpuhwa
plotted to poison him.
Using the story of Geshe Tsakpuhwa as his
starting point, His Holiness investigated what it means to abandon
the Dharma. He explained that Geshe Tsakpuhwa was a Kadampa geshe.
These were usually exemplary and well-qualified lamas, but Geshe
Tsakpuwha’s downfall came about because of his pride. It was true
that he had some learning, but he became arrogant, and gave up the
Dharma. Because of his arrogance he looked down on others and was
unable to recognise Milarepa’s qualities. When Milarepa shamed him
in the presence of his sponsors, he felt there was no alternative
but to kill him, and so began to plot how he could poison him.
Gyalwang Karmapa warned of the dangers of
holding partisan and sectarian views such as “I belong to this
lineage” or “I follow this lama” which deny the value and validity
of other teachers or schools. He suggested that this was a form of
abandoning the Dharma, and, as such, counts as worse than the five
heinous deeds: killing your mother, killing your father, killing an
Arhat, harming a Buddha, causing schism in the sangha. Abandoning
the Dharma is defined as denying something was Dharma when it was,
maintaining something was Dharma when it wasn’t, and, likewise,
claiming that a genuine dharma practitioner was not practising
Dharma, and vice versa. If one did any of these, one had abandoned
the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Abandoning the Dharma is described as “cutting
the root of all virtuous actions”. The consequence is “all positive
things are finished”. The person may still perform positive deeds,
according to some, but it would be very difficult for them to attain
enlightenment, His Holiness explained. In contrast, so long as they
did not abandon the Dharma, even the negative karma of someone who
had committed hundreds of thousands of negative deeds could be
His Holiness gave further examples of giving up
the Dharma, such as people who allege that the Mahayana tradition is
not true Buddhism, that the Vajrayana tradition comes from Hinduism,
or that the tantras are not true Dharma. If you deeply criticise or
make this type of allegation, he warned, you have given up the
Dharma. In Tibet there were many sects, and old and new tantras,
but all of the methods taught were relevant teachings for the two
accumulations. Some may not suit certain people, but this was not a
sound reason for those people to denigrate them. In differentiating
between what was Dharma and what was not Dharma, the significant
factor was whether a teaching was of benefit . It also had to be
appropriate to the capacity of that person. If the teaching was
unsuitable, for example, teaching emptiness to someone who was not
prepared, It could cause harm, confusion and misconceptions.
Mistaken logic might lead someone then to say about certain
teachings “Oh, this is bad” or “This is good”. In that case, there
was the danger of committing the fault of abandoning the Dharma.
Indeed, the Chakrasamvara Tantra warned that if you were unable to
understand profound teachings, you should not criticise them. It was
important to understand that it was not always possible for the
intellect to take the measure of the profound Dharma.
Gyalwang Karmapa transferred his focus to
non-Buddhist religions. To criticise a non-Buddhist religion, he
warned, could be similar to breaking samaya. The non- virtuous
actions include harsh speech; if you were to say harsh words about
other religions or other schools, it was possible you would break
the root samaya of tantra.
Then there was the issue of disputes between
Buddhist schools. These had arisen early in the history of Buddhism,
leading to the establishment of 18 separate schools. Buddha himself
had predicted that Buddhist schools would fight amongst each other,
but such arguments and disputes, His Holiness warned were destroying
Buddhism. It was essential that the Buddhist sangha live in harmony,
he emphasised. In places where the sangha argued and fought, the
positive energy of the place was destroyed, positive spirits lost
their power, and negative energy became very strong, adversely
affecting all the sentient beings in that environment. Such a place
required an enlightened being to turn the Wheel of Dharma three
times in order to restore harmony.
If the Vinaya holders are in harmony, the sangha
is worthy of worship. Unlike Buddha and Dharma, the Sangha can
actually accept offerings, but they need to maintain pure conduct,
and practise the three trainings. In Ancient India, it is said, the
sangha kept pure ethical discipline, and laypeople attained
enlightenment by making offerings to them. In Tibet, however, that
was not the case. Gyalwang Karmapa told a story of Buddha Shakyamuni
and Buddha Amitabha, when they were still bodhisattvas. At that time
both were bhikkus (fully ordained monks).
Buddha Amitabha was Bhikku Right Livelihood and
it was his practice to adjust his teaching according to the capacity
of the student. Buddha Shakyamuni , on the other hand, was Bhikku
Dharma, who insisted on teaching only the most definitive meaning.
As a consequence of his rigidity, only a few of his students
attained realisation, many failed to understand, and some even took
a wrong path, yet, in spite of this, he accused Bhikku Right
Livelihood of not teaching correctly. When Bhikku Dharma died, he
suffered the consequences. He spent aeons in the hell realms, then
for many aeons he could not remember bodhicitta. He was born as an
animal. Then he was born dumb for sixty aeons. When he finally
attained the precious human rebirth he was born in a degenerate
age. Eventually, he was born as Shakyamuni. Meanwhile, Bhikku
Right Livelihood had attained enlightenment a long time before!
We need to be wary of criticising other schools
out of ignorance, commented Gyalwang Karmapa. Often our arrogance
leads us to make mistaken judgements of what is good and what is
bad. Such biased crticism can send us to the hell realms. We have
the opportunity to practice the Dharma. We should not waste that
opportunity by committing non-virtuous actions, by becoming
partisan and criticising others. His Holiness illustrated the point.
It takes four people to carry a heavy copper pot; if one person
tries to carry it alone, they will drop it. He advised everyone to
study all Buddhist traditions and then they will have a
comprehensive view of the Dharma. In order to become enlightened, we
must obtain omniscience. If we are not open to studying everything,
how can we ever attain omniscience, he asked. It is said that there
is nothing that a bodhisattva does not study because they have to
be able to help everybody. The reason for becoming a buddha is in
order to be of benefit to all sentient beings as vast as space.
If you do not have this motivation, you become an Arhat. Even
understanding emptiness can be done through different approaches.
Gyalwang Karmapa concluded this part of the
teaching by referring to a sutra called Getting rid of the
negative deeds of abandoning the Dharma.
“Buddha said you have to read this sutra first,
then you can teach,” he explained.
The teaching session closed with a meditation on
Akhshobhya, who has the power to purify all negativities.
First acknowledge your non-virtuous actions,
and then visualise Akhshobhya above the crown of your head. He is
wearing a black and gold crown, and,like Vajrasattva, he holds a vajra
in his right hand and a bell in his left.
Make strong and sincere prayers for purification.
A stream of water flows from his heart centre,
and this stream enters your body through the aperture on the crown
of your head, purifying your body and mind.